You Have an Idea for a Story: Now What?

I’ve been posting quite a bit lately about the sources for some of the stories in my new collection, “The Mutual UFO Network.” From personal experience, to second-hand anecdote, to a heard first line, to an image that fascinated me, to a memorable person I knew, I felt my way toward a story. It’s one thing to have that glimmer of inspiration—that thing that makes me put words on a page—but it’s quite another to come up with just the right premise for the material. Over the years, I’ve shaped enough material into stories to intuitively know to look for [...]

By | 2018-06-04T08:51:59+00:00 June 4th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Boy Who Couldn’t Buy My Book: A Tale from the Bookstore Circuit

I’m making a special Saturday post because I’m excited about going to Dayton, Ohio, tomorrow, June 3, to introduce my new story collection, The Mutual UFO Network, to folks at Books & Co. I’ll be there at 2pm to talk a bit about short stories, to read briefly from the new book, to chat with those who come out, and to sign copies for anyone who wants one. I’ve been doing similar bookstore events for a number of years, and, when I do, I always think back to the very first one I did when my first book, the story [...]

By | 2018-06-02T09:57:59+00:00 June 2nd, 2018|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Sometimes a Story Begins with a Voice

I thought I’d continue my series of posts about how stories sometimes come to me. Often they begin with a voice. A narrator speaks, and I listen. I let the voice pique my curiosity. I begin to wonder what’s happened in this narrator’s life that makes it impossible for him or her to remain silent. What are the pressures that lead to the telling of the story? One of the stories in my upcoming collection, The Mutual UFO Network, began because one day, while I was running, I heard a narrator say, “My uncle was a man named Bill Jordan.” [...]

By | 2018-05-28T02:04:34+00:00 May 28th, 2018|Uncategorized|2 Comments

What If?: Creating Fiction from Actual Experiences

Last week I wrote about one of the ways that stories often come to me. Sometimes a memorable character draws me into a narrative, and I follow the story he or she creates to see where it might lead. I’ve also been called to a story because I play the “what if?” game with either an experience I’ve had myself or one someone else has had. At one time, I lived in an apartment near what’s now the University of Memphis. I didn’t realize it when we moved in that we were at the edge of a crime-ridden neighborhood. One [...]

By | 2018-05-21T08:13:17+00:00 May 21st, 2018|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Stories Are All Around Us

Henry James, in The Art of Fiction, advises writers to “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.” Stories are all around us. We just need to take the time to listen and look. They come in a variety of ways. Sometimes a person catches our eye, and we think, “hmm, I wonder what it’s like to be him or her.” I lived next door once to a family who had a daughter about ten years old, a girl who was eccentric to say the least. I saw her come down her porch steps once in a [...]

By | 2018-05-14T04:35:38+00:00 May 14th, 2018|Uncategorized|3 Comments

Three Principles for Short Story Writers

Once upon a time, I lived in a place where a man had a habit of lying in the street at night, looking up at the stars. He was a troubled man who sometimes sat on his front porch, having conversations with whatever voices he heard in his head. Often these conversations were violent ones, with all sorts of foul language and sounds that weren’t human—wails, howls, and groans. At first, his behavior was shocking. Then, as the days and weeks and months went on, it became the regular come-and-go. He was just the man across the street. One night, [...]

By | 2018-05-07T06:54:31+00:00 May 7th, 2018|Uncategorized|4 Comments


Last night, we celebrated another graduating class from the MFA program here at The Ohio State University with a gala reading and reception. It’s that time of year when thousands of MFA grads across the country come up against that question, “What’s next?” The truth is that for many of those thousands of grads the answer is difficult. After the years spent studying craft and teaching in return for tuition remission, many wonder how to put the MFA degree to work for them in the real world. When I finished my MFA in 1984, I ended up in Athens, Ohio, [...]

By | 2018-04-30T07:59:49+00:00 April 30th, 2018|Uncategorized|4 Comments

I Never Intended to Write a Novel

I was a young writer at a time when the short story enjoyed an era of great popularity, an era of Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jayne Ann Phillips, Ann Beattie, Tobias Wolff, Richard Ford, et. al. Bill Buford, then editor of Granta, coined the term “Dirty Realism” to describe the work being done in the short form. I’ve never given much thought to why this aesthetic made such good sense to me, but I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that I came from a blue collar world where the economic circumstances of one’s life [...]

By | 2018-04-23T08:58:59+00:00 April 23rd, 2018|Uncategorized|3 Comments

Shh!: The Penultimate Moment before the End of a Narrative

Around five o’clock one evening, an emergency notice came on my phone, advising me to seek shelter immediately. Then the tornado sirens began to wail. My wife Cathy and I gathered up our orange tabby, Stella the Cat, and headed to our basement. The rain came and the hail. Then, everything went still. The wind calmed. The rain stopped. “Here it comes,” I said. Because I grew up in the Midwest and have been through more than one tornado, I know that often just before the funnel cloud touches down an eerie calm sets in. So it is with a [...]

By | 2018-04-16T08:40:29+00:00 April 16th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Ego and the MFA

It’s MFA thesis defense season here at Ohio State, which always reminds me of my own MFA experience at the University of Arkansas. So much of my education as a writer was a process of becoming aware of how much I didn’t know. At the time, it was often discouraging to realize just how humbling learning this craft can be. Now, in retrospect, I see my acceptance of my ignorance as a necessary step in my development. It’s been my experience, both personal and observational, that writers sometimes enter an MFA program too full of themselves. How can anyone blame [...]

By | 2018-04-09T07:24:26+00:00 April 9th, 2018|Uncategorized|8 Comments